As today happens to be Christmas Day, I thought I would take some time to lay out my ideal wishlist for OKC. It could be a lot longer obviously, as virtually everything could be done differently, more efficiently, and better. But I'll stick to the main points:
1. One thing I wish for is a serious Plan OKC process. In the coming weeks I am going to be trying to get together an urbanist group to do a Plan OKC "Meeting in a Box" over one evening. I would actually like to see OKC implement some innovative ideas (maybe even some that would make city planning conspiracy theorists' eyes bulge) that could legitimately curb sprawl. I'd like to see us creating fewer places devoid of real lasting value (thus creating future SLUMS) and like to see us move some more of our growth into the kind of development that will still be nice 30 years from now, and even still standing 100 years from now. I'm tired of cheap and low-quality being Oklahoma City's best selling-point. Even if that means prices are going to rise, we have to find a way to start building quality communities and to stop building slightly better than crappy communities. A friend once told me that OKC's motto is, "Better than crappy makes us happy." It's true, and how said is that?
2. When it comes to one of OKC's latest greatest projects with a 7-digit price tag, I'm not even going to say I hope for any kind of abstract, feel-good process with the convention center like an open or transparent process. I could care less about that at this point, because the bottom line is that if the convention center is right next to the park with no separation, it will ruin the park environment. If they think putting commie block apartments in the convention center facade is going to work, they must be kidding themselves. A convention hotel is not a mixed-use from a convention center, either. They need to either put the convention center somewhere else or if they insist on the mysterious OG+E payments, then they need to utilize my creative solution to set it back an entire block and bring Broadway back, allowing for a slender 1x4-block district to develop in between the two. The ULI panel noted that the convention center is being put on 40% more land than it needs, even if it's going to be expanded. Furthermore, I'm tired of the suburban thinking behind Core2Shore. There are block sizes and human scales that actually matter downtown. I get it that they don't understand or care about this, but you can't just recreate a site identical to what you'd do in the suburbs and put it downtown. In the suburbs you wouldn't notice an area (similar to what would end up running all the way from Park Avenue to Oklahoma River) that consists of over 100 normal sized city blocks consolidated into about 15 huge superblocks. Right now we have a large cluster of superblocks that has killed downtown, and ALL Core2Shore looks like it will do at this point is extend that huge miserable cluster further south. Has anyone noticed how the Myriad Convention Center and the Myriad Gardens interact with eachother?? "Oh, but it will be different this time.." If anyone buys that the nature of superblocks have changed, or that they can do the exact same thing and get a better result, they need to be locked up in the mental ward. Or shipped to Tulsa.
3. Come on Nick, tell us what you're planning. I mean Nick Preftakes, not myself. Years later I am still dying to find out what Nick Preftakes is planning to do with the entire block he bought up in the Arts District. I've been telling people it's going to be a game changer, especially with Devon Tower+park+retail+auditorium and the emergence of the Film Row area (which is coming along very nicely), the Arts District could potentially be unrecognizable if Preftakes announces a major development there. It will be absolutely essential that he maintains the historic integrity of the very-historic block, but there are some boarded up buildings there with some really amazing potential. It would be so worth it, especially when you look at the new lease on life the old Montgomery Ward building across the street got. The unfolding of these plans could potentially affect other things like the streetcar route. I've been telling people that I think the Arts District could potentially be a much bigger deal than it is now.
4. I want to see development in Bricktown get back to where it could be. I wish for Bricktown to come closer to being "completed" because once other districts get hot, it may never be able to attract more development. The big problem is that in my opinion Bricktown has gotten stale and has failed to reinvent itself in a long time, and in today's world, that can be fatal. Bricktown could suffer the same death that the West End did for a period if it fails to reinvent itself and stay fresh. It's not just for the sake of locals who have started to focus more on districts that are hotter right now, but for developers who are comparing cheaper asking prices somewhere like 10th Street or Broadway to astronomical ridiculously inflated asking prices in Bricktown, and the choice to pass on Bricktown becomes an easy one. I think Bricktown is relying too much on the streetcar spurring development along Sheridan to bother pursuing other ideas. The city absolutely is to blame, not the Bricktown merchants that put their money where their mouths are. Just because the ballpark and canal are in Bricktown doesn't mean that it's reached some invisible limit for how much city assistance a neighborhood can receive. Has the city turned its back on Bricktown?
5. The Bricktown point is a great segway into parking. Simply put, two things need to happen: It needs to be expressly codified into the city statutes that new surface parking downtown will not be tolerated, especially in lieu of previously standing buildings no matter the condition of said building, and parking lot moguls in areas like Bricktown need to be shut down and put out of business. Tell them to take their business to Tulsa or some city that will tolerate that, but we won't here in OKC, because a few of us are actually serious about building downtown up. How do you shut down the Bricktown parking lot lords? Public parking, and that can be done extremely easy. Watch closely a project that is underway with Automobile Alley to re-stripe North Broadway and take away a lane, add a turning lane, and change parallel parking to angled parking which will allow them to squeeze in hundreds more parking spaces. If they went with angled parking along every Bricktown street that is free or metered, they could easily shut down the Bricktown parking lots because more than enough parking would be available for free on the street. This should also be pursued in other districts if the results in A-Alley are as positive as it could very well turn out.
6. Oklahoma City has failed to grow downtown housing to the extent that we had hoped we would have by now. This is a simple fact in spite of the other fact that downtown housing is slowly on its way to becoming viable, with several hundred downtown residents moving in and taking up urban lifestyles. It could be more, it should have been more. The 2005 Downtown Housing Study said there was 5-year demand for thousands more units than we ended up getting built between 2005-10. Another downtown study that came out right around there recommended taking several steps to incentivize downtown development. Virtually none of those steps, except for rezoning, were actually followed through with. I assume the copies of it at the Planning Dept got filed in the big file cabinet full of other ignored downtown studies and surveys and reports and commissions. But it may be time to develop a REAL program designed to result in a boom in smaller infill projects. This needs to happen now, so that we can fix the problem with demand, before streetcar comes on line and results in a huge boom in infill and therefor makes the appearance of a problem go away. If we get the streetcar finished without an infill program, the results aren't going to be as positive as it would be if we got the streetcar in and an infill program. We need to evaluate our goals from 5 years ago, and the results we got, consider why it ended up that way (and be open-minded to reasons other than the popular excuse, "It's the economy, stupid"), and get back on track to recover lost projected units.
7. I want to see Full Circle move downtown. They could locate smack in between Heritage Hills and the booming downtown residential market. Downtown residential markets tend to be filled with creative types with disposable income WHO READ. If they went into a beautiful old building like The Packard at 10th/Robinson they'd have the potential to be one of the absolute coolest locally-owned bookstores in America. They already are, the only thing holding them back is their location in crappy (and rapidly-emptying) 50 Penn Place. Enough said.
Well that's the Top 6 at least. Quick summary: 1, Plan OKC; 2, convention center location; 3, Nick Preftakes development; 4, Bricktown development; 5, angled parking; 6, small infill program; 7, Full Circle.
I am thankful for all the really good things going on in OKC, for being included in a number of processes unfolding around downtown right now, and it's also good to be back in town. If anyone's interested in meeting for coffee or lunch, feel free to let me know, I'm always excited to meet with fellow urbanists. I know this blog doesn't get a lot of comments by the nature of the things it talks about, but I do appreciate the people who read this and hear me out on the ideas I have. Merry Christmas to all!